Zen 101, Has a dog Buddha Nature or not? MU!!!!

Loki eats the Buddha

Here we are in week two of our month-long Zen 101 Course, together diving deeply into unknown waters. Many of us, never having encountered Zen meditation before, let alone these pesky things called koans. And we are presented with this: A monk once asked Master Joshu, “Has a dog the Buddha nature or not?” Joshu answered, “Mu!” meaning no. One of the most fundamental teachings of Zen is that all beings have Buddha Nature, born with the capacity to awaken. Our practice is to sit quietly in stillness, allowing the dust to settle in order to reveal what we already are. The monk asking the question, and the teacher answering “no” would surely have known this. So, why such a preposterous answer? How could Joshu in a word negate this most fundamental truth? What is really happening here? If you’ve spent any significant amount of time around a dog, it’s clear how present that dog is. Hungry? Time to eat. Tired? Time to sleep. Burst of energy? Time to run and play! Perhaps what Joshu was saying is “No, you don’t have Buddha Nature. You ARE Buddha Nature.” Awakened nature isn’t a part of who you are. It’s the whole enchilada. Or perhaps by saying no, he was lighting a fire in the student’s belly, inspiring him to look deeply and find out for himself. At other times, being asked the same question, Joshu actually responded “Yes!” Ultimately, what Zen practice points to is a place beyond yes and no. Annoyingly (and beautifully), this place also includes yes and no. Mumon’s verse that accompanies the koan:

The dog! The Buddha Nature!
The Truth is manifested in full.
A moment of yes-and-no:
Lost are your body and soul.

Laurie’s capping verse:

Mu swirls in my belly.
now, out my mouth
and into the mouth of the dog!
And Loki says, “WOOF!”

Please comment with your capping verse!

Join the Conversation


  1. We’ve been told that Mu means “no”, but the second line of the Koan also includes “No Thing” as an interpretation. My nit-picky brain made me wonder if Joshu is saying the question is ‘No Thing”, that the question itself is nonsense. Maybe Joshu is not even addressing whether or not a dog has buddha nature. He is sending his student away to contemplate why he/she would even ask the question. Regards! Becky

  2. Dear Ones, The NPR program Living on Earth (which airs on WGCU on Sundays at 3:00) this past week featured a member of Thich Naht Hahn’s community who has written a book called Zen and the Art of Saving the World. You may want to find it online on the NPR website or on the WGCU website. There is a written transcript of the interview. If you prefer to listen to the full program, the piece with the interview comes about 3/4 of the way through the program.


Leave a comment

Leave a Reply